Africa: Kenyatta Says Youth Key to Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Africa

Nairobi — President Uhuru Kenyatta has appealed to African Governments to put the youth at the core of their Universal Health Coverage (UHC) programs saying young people have the energy, motivation and know-how to drive the agenda forward.

"The youth are a key constituency in driving momentum towards UHC, that should not be side-lined. We should engage with and empower our youth; giving them the knowledge and skills to take charge of their health," the President said.

President Kenyatta spoke on Monday at State House, Nairobi when he delivered the opening address at this year's Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC21) held virtually.

The President said health challenges facing young Africans such as HIV/AIDS, mental health and substance abuse had been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"... I urge the conference to give special attention to health issues that are plaguing our young people; which include teenage pregnancies, alcohol and substance abuse, lifestyle diseases, epidemics such as HIV/AIDs, and mental health," the President said.

To make the UHC aspiration a reality, the President said African nations need to focus more on the expansion of primary health, increase access to health services, make healthcare affordable and harness the innovativeness of its youth.

The Head of State also called for stronger collaboration and coordination among stakeholders, improvement of health security and more political will to advance the UHC agenda.

On primary healthcare, the President said besides providing curative medical services priority should also be given to preventive aspects such as maternal and child health, water, sanitation, and hygiene services.

"Currently, about 600 million people across the African continent do not have access to health services. To address this, we must make increased investments in physical facilities, medical equipment, drugs, and trained personnel," the President said.

He said Kenya had significantly expanded its health services in recent years by equipping over 100 hospitals with advanced medical equipment. In Nairobi, the President pointed out that his administration was developing 24 new hospitals in the city's informal settlements.

The President regretted the high cost of healthcare in Africa saying many families suffer the misfortune and indignity of having to sell-off family assets to offset medical bills.

He estimated that 15 million African households are pushed to poverty annually due to out-of-pocket healthcare payments saying Kenya was implementing a mix of measures to address the high cost of medical care.

"Kenya is addressing this challenge by embarking on a national programme to ensure universal access to the National Hospital Insurance Fund through mandatory enrolment and a full Government subsidy for the poor and vulnerable," the President said.

The President advised health sector stakeholders to harness innovativeness and creativity of Africans, especially the youth, as demonstrated in the continent's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I urge health providers, investors, and development partners participating in this conference to nurture such innovations; especially those that are led by young people.

"These local-level successes in fighting Covid-19 can be a strong foundation for increasing capacities for the domestic manufacturing of essential medical commodities, drugs, and vaccines required in other disease and healthcare situations," he said.

On strengthening of collaborations in the health sector, the President advised stakeholders to copy the example of the African Union mechanism that saw the continent develop and successfully implement a common Covid-19 response strategy.

"Between our nations, we must collaborate and coordinate; as shown by the African Union Bureau of the Assembly Heads of State and Government that successfully developed continental Covid-19 strategy and Africa Medical Supplies Procurement Platform," the President advised.

President Kenyatta rallied fellow African political leaders to chaperone the UHC agenda saying, leadership strongly co-relates to the success of health systems.

"I call upon leaders on the African continent to give health the highest political commitment, and to pursue the attainment of UHC as a critical driver of social development and economic prosperity," the President said.

Director General of the World Health Organization Dr Tedros Adhanom and Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC) Dr John Nkengasong also spoke at the opening ceremony that was moderated by AMREF Health Africa Group CEO Dr Githinji Gitahi.

Dr Tedros congratulated President Kenyatta for the achievements made by Kenya towards the realisation of UHC and nostalgically recalled how he accompanied to the Head of State to Kisumu for the launch of the programme.

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